One of the most influential schools of thought in the Ancient world was that of Stoicism. Stoic philosophers like Lucius Annaeus Seneca believed that a life of rational self-control was the key to happiness. Their method involved keeping the passion in check so as to attain a state of apatheia) a state of freedom from the controlling influence of the passions on the human soul) which ultimately leads to a kind of equanimity or happiness. Seneca, who was the teacher of the demented Roman leader Nero put these principles into action when he serenely took his own life after loosing favor with Nero and became an example of the kind of Stoic sage that is the great role model of Stoic ethics.
As you read, be sure that you are able to answer the following questions:
According to the teachings of the Stoics what is the sole good in life? What does that make everything else in life? (introduction)
What are the passions? What are the four main passions? Why are passions considered "sicknesses of the soul" in Stoicism? (introduction; Ep. 74, sect. 1)
What is the right way to use worldly goods so as not to become attached to them? (Ep 74, sect. 2)
Why is Aristotle's understanding of worldly goods wrong then according to Seneca (Ep 74, sect. 4)
What is apatheia? How is this state connected with happiness for the Stoics? (introduction)
Who is the sapiens or sage in Stoic philosophy? Why is it that only the sage can be called truly happy in life? (Introduction) How does the wise man react when he/she encounters so-called evils in life? (Ep. 74, sect 5)
Explain why the passion of anger is a problem for Seneca. (Anger, Bk1, sect. 1-2) Why does Seneca believe that an emotion like anger is never useful (Anger, Bk 1, sect. 7) What is the only rational way to deal with anger, according to Seneca? (On Anger, Bk 1, sect. 8; Bk 2, sect 12)
What is the Stoic attitude towards death? Why does Seneca ultimately believe that death is not an evil and nothing to be feared? (Ep. 24)
If you think that you understand the basic ideas in the text, take the quiz for this unit.